Wednesday, December 5, 2012



[An updated excerpt from my Article titled PUTTING ETHICS BEFORE BUSINESS by VIKRAM KARVE published in the Journal INDIAN MANAGEMENT (The Journal of the All India Management Association) Vol 36 No 10 October 1997 issue pp 51-53]

Some people believe that ethics is of little concern to business people.

Ethics is ethics and business is business.

When faced with an ethical dilemma today, many upwardly managers tend to take the position that they must wear two ethical hats and cloak themselves with two separate conflicting codes of ethics. 

One Ethical Hat applies to the professional or technical aspects of their work (professional or technical ethics).

The second Ethical Hat applies for their business behaviour (business ethics).

This leads to the development of a schizophrenic ethical personality.

On the one hand the manager strives for professional excellence and high ethical standards for his own self.

Whereas, on the other hand he resorts to unethical practices to achieve business success for his organization at all costs.

Indeed this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Ethical Approach is at the heart of many ethical dilemmas in managerial decision-making.

One useful technique to resolve such ethical dilemmas is the CATWOE model adapted from Systems Management. 

Ethical dilemma occurs due to mismatch in ethical perspectives of various stakeholders involved in the ethical situation.  

A CATWOE analysis helps the manager identify all stakeholders involved in a decision and their respective ethical perspectives.

CATWOE is an acronym to categorize various stakeholders:



To elaborate a bit:

C:   The ‘customers of the system’. In this context, ‘customers’ means those who are on the receiving end of whatever it is that the system does. Is it clear from your definition of “C” as to who will gain or lose from your decision?

A:   The ‘actors’, meaning those who would actually carry out the activities envisaged in the notional system being defined.

T:   The ‘transformation process’. What does the system do to the inputs to convert them into the outputs?

W:   Weltanschauung - The ‘world view’ that lies behind the root definition. Putting the system into its wider context can highlight the consequences of the overall system. For example the system may be in place to assist in making the world environmentally safer, and the consequences of system failure could be significant pollution.

O:   The ‘owner(s)’ – i.e. those who have sufficient formal power over the system to stop it existing if they so wished (though they won’t usually want to do this).

E:   The ‘environmental constraints’. These include things such as ethical limits, regulations, financial constraints, resource limitations, limits set by terms of reference, and so on.


(This case study pertains to the year 1997)

A state-of-the-art cutting-edge technology product (say something like a mobile cellphone – remember we are talking about the year 1997) is to be launched by a leading company simultaneously at different locations for the first time in the country on a certain date which has been widely announced and advertised and there is fantastic customer response and heavy bookings for the product.

A big event is planned in Pune for the launch for which a large number of dignitaries, customers and media have been invited, for extensive TV, media and press coverage.

The manager’s career hinges on the success of the event and the launch.

Three days before the scheduled launch date the newly appointed regional manager’s deputy tells him that the trucks transporting the product have been detained at the octroi post outside Pune.

The trucks (carrying the consignment of the new product) have been detained ostensibly for want of some documents and the octroi inspector is demanding a bribe for immediate clearance of the consignment.

“Should we pay the bribe?” the deputy manager asks the regional manager.

CATWOE Analysis

To begin CATWOE analysis of the ethical situation, let us start with the key player – the regional manager who is the decision maker or the “T” of the CATWOE model.

The newly appointed regional manager may face a number of ethical dilemmas that may complicate his decision.

What is the meaning of the directive from his boss that the launch event must succeed at any cost…? 

Does his boss mean that the regional manager must do anything, legal or illegal, in order to ensure a successful launch…? 

Or does this directive imply and assume that the regional manager should act within bounds of the law and ethical propriety…?

Why has his deputy manager passed the ball in his court…? 

The deputy manager has been working in this office for a long time and surely such situations must have arisen before. 

The amount of the bribe is peanuts and well within the deputy manager’s scope to pay and he can surely “manage” this on his own. 

Then why is he asking the regional manager…?

Is it a trap to test the newly appointed regional manager’s honesty…?

The regional manager has many ethical obligations towards several parties. He has an obligation to obey the laws of the land but as an employee he also has owes a degree of obedience to his superiors and obligations to ensure the company’s success.

This conflicting two-fold obligation comprises not only business and commercial success but also includes his duty to guard his company’s reputation, protect its interests and see that it does not fall foul of the law.

Finally, the regional manager has a duty towards himself not to compromise his own personal conscience. 

At the same time he needs to look after his career interests for which a successful launch is vital.

And he must safeguard himself against legal hassles if he is caught breaking the law.

CATWOE - The Dramatis Personnae and their Ethical Perspectives


The actors include the various persons demanding the bribe and the company employees / agents involved the the payment / delivery process of the bribe. 

It could set a bad precedent as both the company and newly appointed regional manager could acquire a reputation that they can be easily “milked” and are ethically vulnerable. 

Furthermore, paying the bribe could create an attitude among employees and junior staff that, in this company, bribery is simply a standard operating procedure.

It is most likely that employees expecting to be held accountable to the manager and company rules will begin to distrust both the manager and the company itself, for in today’s world employees reject the “Do as I say, but not as I do” notion.


The directive the the launch must be a success at all costs (secure business at all costs) conveys the message that the company’s top management is concerned with only results not with the means to achieve the results. 

It encourages employees to abdicate moral responsibility for their actions and take refuge in the “I was only following orders” excuse thereby shifting the blame and trying to clear one’s conscience. 

When senior management fosters an attitude that anything goes, experience suggests that it probably will and there is every chance that scams and scandals may occur.

It must also be remembered that to the extent the company gains sales for non-business reasons it runs the risk of being complacent about the quality of its products or services. 

On the contrary, if the organization no longer feels the need to respond to the demands and dynamics of market or the challenge of technological advancements, it risks losing its competitive edge.


From the perspective of the customers, the ethical dilemma here is that:

On the one hand the regional manager must keep his promises to his customers regarding timely delivery

while on the other hand
the regional manager must not lose sight of the fact that bribes represent unproductive dead-weight that raises the cost of doing business which in turn is passed on to the customer.


Is the argument “well, others are doing it, so why not us” valid and ethical? 

The prevailing ethical environment depends on the moral behaviour of the majority of citizens.

In this case the ethical environment is also determined by the moral values and code of ethics and conduct practiced by the existing industry in India, particularly in and around Pune.

But one thing is sure – in the long term, it is not beneficial to conduct business in an environment where lying, stealing, bribery, cheating and other immoral activities are permitted and practiced by the majority. 

That is why bribery is illegal in virtually every country in the world.

WELTANSCHAUUNG (World View Predominantly Held)
On the ethical plane, bribery and corruption is almost universally condemned as it violates the core ethical values of honesty and integrity.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION (to the Ethical Dilemma)

CATWOE analysis presents a holistic view of the ethical perspectives of concerned stakeholders involved in the ethical dilemma. 

In the ethical situation analysed here in this case study, it clearly suggests that it is the long term interests of the stakeholders involved in the ethical decision that the regional manager should act in the following manner:

1. Decline to pay the bribe.

2. Apprise the top management of his decision.

3. Use the three days time available and try to resolve the issue in the proper manner, with the help of the top management, intervention at higher levels and threat of counter-exposure if necessary.

4. Take customers into confidence to cater for the “worst case scenario”.

5. Ask the top management promulgate a code of ethics which clearly prohibits all types of bribes and illegal payments.


Business ethics concentrates on moral standards as they apply to business policies, institutions and behaviour of top management and employees who work within these organizations. 

Business ethics is applied ethics as it incorporates ethical analysis involving all stakeholders (CATWOE Model) and applies the conclusions of this analysis to resolve ethical dilemma.

Business is a cooperative activity whose very existence requires ethical behaviour, as any unethical behaviour on the part of any of the stakeholders is detrimental to business interests. 

Business cannot strive without ethics so it is in the best interest of business to promote ethical behaviour among all its stakeholders as well as within its larger society. 

When employees believe an organization is ethical, they are more willing to contribute to the organization’s interests, as they see managers’ leadership as legitimate and readily follow what their managers and supervisors tell them to do.  

Thus, ethics is sine qua non for any business and term “Business Ethics” is certainly not an oxymoron.

Dear Reader:

This is the end of the Case Study

Now let us talk about practical things. 

Do you agree with the above analysis in the case study?

Or do you consider it quite theoretical, idealistic and Utopian and feel that it is impractical to implement such business ethics practices in today’s world? 

Do you feel that the term “Business Ethics” is an oxymoron and such Utopian concepts of ethics and codes of conduct have no relevance in today’s world?

Please comment and let us know your views.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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Anonymous said...

Business Ethics, if not totally oxymoron, is quite subjective and dynamic ( in terms of the relevance w.r.t.time and context).
One may not be able to be 99% honest, but can certainly be 99% ethical , in the world of business.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

@ amvaishnav - Nicely said: you can be 99% Ethical (and true to your own conscience)